1 Corinthians 9

Now as I always do, I want to give a little bit of a brief as to how we got to here from the beginning of the book.  You must always keep in the back of your mind that this letter is the second of four corrective letters to the church at Corinth, clearly the one that had the most issues that we read about in the new Testament.  We must not initiate the building of theology from this letter without understanding the greater context of the Scriptures as a whole before using 1 Corinthians to draw any theological conclusions.  You’ll see what I mean when we talk about our second paragraph this study.

In chapter 1, we learned that basically, everyone is some kind of fool, and concluded from our study that if we have to play the fool anyway, we should play the part of God’s fool, because the so-called “foolishness” of our sovereign God will put any of the logic or wisdom of the world to shame.  Come, give your life for a carpenter’s son – for “a madman who died for a dream,” according to Dr. Albert Schweitzer.  But only the foolish can tell of the wonderful grace of God in their own salvation and the wisdom found in His word through His Spirit.

That brought us to chapter 2, where we had opportunity to examine the nature of this heavenly wisdom, that the world calls foolish.  We learned that not only was that true wisdom a spiritual, and nor earthly wisdom, but also that such wisdom could only be revealed to those who are aiming at maturity in Christ by walking “in the Spirit,” where for lack of better words, we obey what the Holy Spirit informs us through the Word of God and the New Nature that Christ gave us to walk in instead of the old nature that we are still very capable of falling into no matter how long you have been a real Christian.

Then in chapter 3, we considered that God’s reality is the reality to which attention must be paid.  We like to manufacture our own at times to avoid responsibility toward God, but believers cannot afford that luxury – all believers are doing a great work, and Paul speaks to the details of that.  Our conclusion is that because we are actually collectively building the naos of God, that is the Sanctuary, where God sits and lives and speaks and works, we must take great care with the construction in terms of the material we use.  There are good and bad choices, and we want to make the best possible choices, because if we are careless, then we will suffer loss.  And that loss is unimaginable, though we will still be saved – “yet so as through the fire, according to Paul.

Then the Apostle presents a choice in chapter 4 – which Paul would you like to face?  The angry disciplinarian that wrote the letter to the Galatians, or the loving, humble, meek servant that wrote Ephesians and Philippians, etc.?  It seems that the dividers were already hard at work trying to separate the sheep from the fold in Corinth, and it had to be explained that although Paul and his fellow servants perhaps appeared to be without honour, instead of discarding them, they should rather be imitated – because the kingdom of God does not exist in eloquent speeches, but in the power of changed lives, and that should be the measure for a preacher.  It seems that we need to obey God and walk in the Spirit at this point, because that is what the Lord is mandating.

That brought us to chapter 5 and an example of the use of church discipline.  We saw that it was to be used seldomly if possible, relying on the Holy Spirit to resolve our minor differences, but in the case of the persistent sin being expressed without any kind of repentance, it should be engaged to remove the covering of protection from an individual so that he may begin to understand through his own wrong choices that brought him into the place where he is so as to make him repent, and even be brought back in as occasion allows.  It is specifically used in cases where a brother or sister WILL not repent, but because most of us want to become more like Christ, it should remain a rare thing.

That brought us to chapter 6 and a consideration about our spiritual choices, because you must remember that Christianity is a faith based on our motivations and choices of heart and mind, not an external religion of liturgy and external ritual, or of refined and well-presented words, but in the demonstration of power that comes from a changed life.  Two things became clear.  1 – if your life is not changed as a result of turning to Christ, something is wrong.  2.  If you ARE His, you are no longer your own, you don’t get to do what you want, you have been bought with a price – His lifeblood.   And if that is true of you, how could you NOT follow Him?  Really, how DARE you not follow Him?

That brings us to the first part of chapter 7, which we will now call 7A. We looked at verses 1-24, where we learned that although there were some things about marriage we needed to pay attention to, that again, Christianity is not a religion of rules, ritual, and rote, but instead is one of heart and attitude.  One thing is very sure – the need to pay attention to the principles of marriage in the New Testament show that God still has His Law in place to be obeyed; so much for unhitching from the Old Testament, Andy. In the next portion of 7, which we called 7B, we learned that Paul was actually applying a biblical principle to a number of issues, and that principle is that anything we do should be done “in the Lord,” as Paul informs the Corinthians believers.  We discovered through this that the principle of walking with the Lord and following His instructions that the Holy Spirit illuminates for us in His word applies to pretty much everything in life and practice.

That brought us to chapter 8, where we considered the defining mark of God’s servants – His agape love.  With all the “stuff” we know here at BereanNation.com, we run a real risk of the arrogance that such knowledge can bring.  Because we know it, it can be a natural thing to just think ourselves smarter than you, and therefore better than you.  My prayer is that such a thing will never be from us.  And when we compare what the world “knows” compared with the heavenly reality that all real believers should be aware of, it becomes clear that those of us who know the truths of God need to be gracious and approach people on the ground of their needs, and not our own – just like Jesus did for us when He came the first time.

That brings us to chapter 9, and this study’s consideration.  Here’s how I saw the chapter:

KV14:  The rights and responsibilities of those that belong to God

“So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”

1-14:  God’s servants have a right to earn a living from their ministry

15-18:  I have given up that right for YOU so not to bring you trouble

19-23:  Everything I do, I do to bring the gospel to YOU…

24-27:  I will run to win (you to the gospel)…

It is interesting that last week we saw a kind of eschatological comparison between the mark that will someday be placed upon the servants of the enemy with the mark that is always placed upon the real servants of God.  The so-named “mark of the beast” will be a mark of loyalty, granting certain rights and giving certain responsibilities upon these servants of Satan.  That holds for literal or allegorical interpretations of that mark, incidentally.  I could continue that comparison and will (without really intending to) in this study. 

Last time, we saw that the mark upon those who are God’s servants is agape, the Greek word that the 70 rabbis and scholars chose to represent the love of God in the Old Testament, in their translation of it.  (Up until then, it was a little-used reference to love that no one had really defined or understood, which I find interesting and amazing.)  This love of God is said to be self-giving, self-effacing, to the point of self-sacrificing for the sake of others, meaning that the servant of God always puts the interests of others ahead of his own interests or even needs at times.

It turns out that this “mark” of sorts also conveys on those who are marked with it and will hold it, certain rights and certain responsibilities, and they are defined further and shown in this chapter as Paul defends his apostleship and the practices of the apostles and other servants of God.  It’s a longer chapter, so I’m going to jump right in.

KV14:  The rights and responsibilities of those that belong to God

“So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”

The main thrust of this chapter is actually a bit of a difficult one for me, because it goes against the grain of at least myself as a servant of God to defend my duties and office.  I can only imagine how this must have been difficult for Paul to write these things.  It seems intuitive that for all those that are true servants of God, there would be duties that they perform and for which God will provide that provision.  For the Apostle, that would have included church planting (our modern name for it) and pastoral care (the caring for those souls in those planted churches, of which Corinth was one), the very point of this letter.  When I think about this, I see very little difference between Paul’s duties then from mine today.  His is a difficult thing sometimes, because I am not Paul, nor can I ever hope to be anything but a pale comparison on my very best day (and that doesn’t happen for me a lot).  I’m not really even “Paul lite” if you will.  And yet God called me, as sure as my name is Gerry, and he gave me to YOU, and one thing I can see in Scripture, and in my own experience, you always get the overseers you need for God to get His growth in you.  This can be good, if your overseers are godly men, or it can be not good if they are abusive men, or even just men that don’t know how to shepherd properly, and thus lack compassion and wisdom.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m in that category, but the Lord called me here, so here I will stay until He shows me something else.

As such, God Himself has given me duties as a pastor.  Here are a few – 2 Timothy 4:1-4 –

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

This solemn charge from Paul to Timothy resonates in my heart in a way that I cannot and indeed must not ignore (or I have trouble sleeping, and I have that problem already).  It enumerates the duties, the responsibilities, to which God has called me.  Preach, that is herald, the Word [logos, the same word used in John 1:1 for the Word].  When?  Well, at two times – in season and out of season – so basically, all the time, given that those two options cover everything (if it isn’t in season, it is out of season).  Paul further defines this as reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all longsuffering (a kind of patience) and instruction [didache, doctrine].  I am supposed to tell people what the Word says.  I’m to do so whether it is easy and convenient or if it is not.  From my experience so far, it rarely is easy or convenient.

I admit that at the very difficult times, I find myself asking why am I doing this again?  And Paul continues and answers!  Because there will come a time where people will no longer listen to correct teaching.  Instead, they will want their ears tickled by bombastic false teachers that will tell them things that they like to hear.  It makes me very depressed that this statement sounds like much of evangelical Christianity today, and it makes my job very hard.  But it does not change my job or my responsibility to carry it out.  I am aware that many will not listen.  I am still supposed to preach the truth with patience and good doctrine.  I must, as many, many men of God before me have done.  Isaiah, arguably the most eloquent of all of us did it for 52 years until King Manasseh had him sawn in two (split from head to crotch the way I heard it).  Jeremiah, the one of us who had the saddest part, the crowd stoned him.  Ezekiel was murdered by being stabbed to death by a man that he had just addressed regarding the sin of adultery.  John the Baptist, who the Lord said was the greatest of us, they beheaded him.  Why?  Because they spoke the truth uncompromisingly, even in the face of death.  Because it only hurt for a few minutes if it hurt long at all – and then they were transported to the presence of God forever.

They did it because God called them to it, and these men were faithful to their duties because in them lived what in Daniel was called “an excellent spirit,” the very Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.  And none of them ever failed, right up until the Lord called them home, regardless of the circumstances that ended their lives here.  And the Lord provided for them, too.  Let’s see what all that means.

1-14:  God’s servants have a right to earn a living from their ministry

God does not call a servant to Himself without providing some provision for him.  This can have some practical implications for anyone listening, but don’t be afraid of what the Lord is saying here.  God’s servant has a right to earn his living from what he is doing for the Lord.  And God’s people have a right to pay for that, being children of the King.  There is a lot that goes with that, and I’m just going to get to the text for that.

1:  Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?

  • You will recall from our study in Chapter 8 that Paul spoke of our Christian liberty being defined and limited by our own love for the brothers (the agape commitment that we considered), and the care for the wellbeing of others ahead of ourselves.  Paul likely taught this to the Corinthians himself (he planted the church there), and the church in Corinth made a big deal out of that liberty.  Paul is saying in this phrase that he is just as free as they are, and he valued it as much as they did – but that there were things he valued more.
  • Am I not an Apostle?  Yes.  Yes he was.  And he offered two points of proof that he was in fact an apostle.  These two items are why I don’t think the capital A apostles exist today.  First, he saw the Lord.  He met Jesus Himself on at least three occasions that Scriptures tell us:  At his conversion in Acts 9, and at least two visions that we know of in Acts 18:9-10 and Acts 22:17-18.  He had met Jesus personally, and I might point out AFTER Jesus’ resurrection.  All the other Apostles had met Him before that.
  • The second piece of proof was the Corinthians in the church themselves.  Paul here tells them that they are his work in Christ.  Part of the Apostle’s duty was to plant churches, and they were one of the churches that Paul had personally planted himself.

2:  If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

  • Paul strengthens that sentiment here by saying that even if “others” (likely those in Corinth that were “followers” of Apollos, Cephas, or “Jesus, (I don’t think it’s the Jesus we know as our Lord and Saviour who sent these men as His servants for our betterment)” who were really only interested in dividing the sheep from the fold there.  If you think about it, one of their main tasks would have to be to disenfranchise Paul, and attack his credibility as a servant of God.  (Looking at most cemeteries, I mean seminaries, we can see very little has changed.  Servants of Satan that masquerade as ministers of righteousness still try to tell us that Paul didn’t write what Paul wrote, for example.)
  • In fact, Paul here refers to the Corinthian believers as the seal of his apostleship.  The kind of seal that he was speaking of bore the imprint of the master sealing the product.  In those days (and in ours), the seal on the product was a guarantee that what was underneath that seal is in fact genuine product of the manufacturer.  The Corinthian believers themselves were the guarantee that Paul was in fact an apostle.

3:  My defense to those who examine me is this:

  • Paul here is clearly desiring to defend his rights here, and he is about to do so.  I should note that the word “examing” in Greek is anakrino, the actual legal term for a case being investigated by the authorities before a decision could be made on the case.  This is the reason we know he was interested in defending his rights.  And he now does so.

4:  Do we not have a right to eat and drink?

  • I know, this sounds like a standard rhetorical question Paul likes to ask, and it is, but there is more to the understanding of this question.  In this context, he is asking, “As God’s servant, particularly as an apostle of Jesus Christ, do I not have the right to expect that food and drink will be provided for me while I am among you, or do I have to pay for that out of pocket as well?  In asking the question, Paul is also beginning to undermine the investigation by these self-pronounced “inspectors” of his apostolic credentials.  He is calling their hospitality into question, as hospitality is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we’ll get there in chapter 12.

5:  Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

  • Before I get to the main thrust of this verse, this is a verse that at least to me suggests that Paul was a widower.  We know this about Paul – he was formerly a part of the Sanhedrin Council in Jerusalem, and you had to be married to be a part of it.  Yet, he proclaims strongly that everyone should be as he is now, just a couple of chapters back in this very letter, which is single.  With this statement, Paul declares (probably unintentionally) that he is in a position where he can remarry.  That leaves only two potential options if he is permitted to remarry.  First, his wife abandoned him.  I could see that, but given what I know about the Jewish patriarchy, I doubt that.  The second is that his wife died.  An application of the principle known as Occam’s Razor, that is, the simplest explanation is most often the right one, his wife died.  Just a handful on purpose, like Boaz’s men threw for Ruth in that story.
  • Now, what Paul is really saying here is something like, “Do not we, as men of God who are serving Him, have the right to have the expenses of my wife paid for as well as she comes to serve with me?”  And he cites some critically important examples of this – the Lord’s brothers, that is the natural children of Joseph and Mary after Jesus’ birth, who were in fact engaged in ministry like this, and Cephas, Peter’s Greek name.
  • Scholars like Dr. John MacArthur suggest that this is evidence that the early church paid the expenses of the spouse as well as the minister if they were passing through town on their trip. 
  • And remember – Paul loves asking rhetorical questions.  The answer to the question is clearly visible from the question.

6:  Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?

  • This particular question actually bothers me quite a bit.  “All the other apostles and ministers like Apollos have their expenses paid,” to put this into our modern parlance,  “or is it only Barnabas and myself that do not have that right and must support ourselves in ministry among you?”
  • I am what is known as a “bi-vocational” minister.  What that means is that I work part time and my wife works so that I may support my ministerial activities in service to Christ.  No “church” seems to want to hire me because I lack a seminary education, and a certain Masters of Divinity degree from an accredited university.  I have been told that I do not have the knowledge or experience necessary to pastor a church, and this despite the fact that I have had TWO YEARS of field experience as a student doing all the things that a “certified” pastor does.  And I cannot afford, while performing this bi-vocational ministry, to take time off let alone PSAY for that degree, scholarships and bursaries notwithstanding, so I can’t just go get the degree.
  • Now – let me ask – what seminary did Peter study at?
  • Exactly.  He didn’t, and HE was a capital-A Apostle.  What was his job before that?  Oh yeah, commercial fisherman.  I know what that is, I grew up in a family full of them.  It was Kenora’s number three industry while I was growing up, right behind the paper mill (now closed) and tourism (still flourishing).  And some of the best theologians I knew back then worked for the [expletive] pipeline!  I’m sorry, it makes me angry, and it isn’t good for the body of Christ in the main, either.
  • What SHOULD be the qualifications for a pastor?  Well, first, he should want to BE a pastor.  If you haven’t got that, you won’t have a faithful pastor.  Then, he must be of high moral character.  This is all listed off in 1 Timothy 2 and 3, and in Titus, by the way.  Where, anywhere in those lists, does it EVER say he must have an M.Div. from McMasters or Tyndale?  Look all you like, it’s not there.  So I’m not in the same category as Paul at all, because NOBODY is paying me.  But I still do it for same reason as Paul, which we will see later in the chapter.
  • Paul in fact worked to support himself in ministry because He wanted to make the gospel of no cost to everyone, by the way.  He wasn’t in it to make money.  He wanted the world to KNOW that.  He worked because he wanted to support his own ministry.  He had every right to expect that support, but he gave it up. 
  • The thing that kind of puts me out is that NOBODY wants to support true ministers of the Gospel.  They want the degree and the certification with no regard to even the salvation of the shepherds.  We know this is a fact because of some of the sheer lunacy happening in our denomination right now.  I’ll stay off my soapbox, I’m sorry.  Moving on.

7:  Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?

  • In this verse, Paul gives several justifications to support the point he is making, and he does so expertly.  Let’s look at those supports. 
  • The first one Paul uses is military service, and this is something that Paul later becomes all too familiar with from the prisoner side.  Nevertheless, he is correct – wouldn’t it be an absolute travesty if your country demanded that you serve it and then made you hold down a job in order to do so, rather than paying you for your service to king and country?  Or conscripted you and then made you buy all your own equipment?  Of course that would be absurd – this is one of the reasons we pay taxes – we have a military for defense.
  • Or who plants a vineyard and then doesn’t at least eat some of the grapes?  Or crush them into juice?  Or drink your own wine?  Again, this would be nonsensical, would it not?  I mean, they are your grapes!
  • Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk produced by the livestock?  Look, I grew up on a dairy farm, beloved.  Despite Ontario’s quota system which fines you for being over and for being under quota (and has probably been singly responsible for a lot of saleable product basically being dumped on the ground behind the barn), we used our own product!  Yes, beloved, I have partaken of fresh, unpasteurized (though not unfiltered, that’s stupid) milk.  There is nothing as good as a cold glass of fresh milk.  My dad even drank the warm stuff (that turned my stomach and my taste buds didn’t like it).  My point is, I know what Paul is saying.  In fact that was product that we didn’t have to dump on the ground (and couldn’t legally sell or distribute).  And whenever the quota inspectors came, they would drink their coffee with that cream, so they knew what was going on. 
  • Paul will reuse this farm kind of analogy (differently) in verse 9 to make this point.

8:  I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?

  • This is Paul’s way of saying, “I’m not just making stuff up or imagining it.”  How do I know?  Well, it also say these things in the Law.  Here comes that farming-type analogy from the Old Testament Scriptures again…

9:  For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He?

  • Paul lays down a quote from Deuteronomy 25:4.  The way Paul uses it is exactly as it occurs in the Old Testament.  In fact, this is not the only place Paul uses that quote!  He uses it again in the same context in 1 Tim. 5:17-18:
    • The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
  • The point of God here in Scripture is that you should not hinder the individual that is engaged in the work from partaking of the fruits of that work, friends.  The fact that bi-vocational ministry exists should be evidence that men in ministry are willing to make the Gospel free of charge, not that no one wants to support the worker or work financially or by looking after his needs for him because YOU don’t think HE is qualified.  My friends, look at those qualifications again.  Does it say ANYWHERE that he must be financially able to look after himself from a magic money truck?  I’ll spare you the effort – it does not.  It doesn’t mention that individual should have a certain level of education, have a certain skin colour, not be an actual slave (I remind you that in Colossae, Onesimus was an elder in the assemble and they met in his master Philemon’s house), and not be a Gentile or a Jew, or specially circumcised or in fact uncircumcised.  What they need to be are willing and of high moral character by inspection of an appointed group that at least has some spiritual savvy.  In fact, in his interpretation of that passage in 1 Tim. 5, Dr. John MacArthur says that those who work hard at preaching and teaching should be “worthy of double honour,” which he takes to mean they should be paid double!
  • I think to NOT pay a minister even though HE is clearly serving YOU is in fact a sin against the body of Christ.  And Christ allows this to test the faithfulness of his servant, be they the congregation, or be they the pastor.
  • I used to belong to a place that didn’t believe in paid pastors, as it turns out.  They felt that such a man would be a hireling that would run when the wolf came.  My friends, I will humbly ask you if that is true of me.  I have been facing down some particular wolves for a while now, and I refuse to run.  Some of you have been helping me face them down, too.  You know that I won’t run.  In my spiritual makeup, God did make me prudent, however.  I can only go on for so long before I will have to “come out” as God has commanded His people.  At what point?  Well, I haven’t given that a lot of thought, but that’s because I haven’t had to, and I admit the prospect scares me.  You guys have less money than I have, and that’s saying something!  All I can say here is that I WILL labour on because I love you all, and I need, in the very fiber of my being, to speak the truth to you so that you know and repent and believe and walk with Him!

10:  Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.

  • This is a direct continuation of Paul’s thought.  The one who labours, no matter what particular role he plays, thresher, plowman, seed-scatterer, whatever – needs to have some hope that his needs will be met in the work he is doing. 
  • I ask you humble again – is it right that these individuals NOT be paid, and instead should have to scramble to meet their own needs?  I’ll let you answer that in your own conscience.  And it’s okay if you can’t meet needs, too.  In any house of God locally, there are going to be people who are rich and people who are poor.  If you’re worried where your next meal is coming from, don’t you DARE worry about anything other than your next meal.  I just ask you please understand that sometimes my messages may not be as prepared as I like them to be, because I’m scrambling to meet my own and those of my family.

11:  If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?

  • Go back in time a moment to the Day of Pentecost in AD 33.   About 3000 people were saved by the Lord that day, and it tells us what they were like with each other.  That’s recorded for us in Acts 2.  In verse 44-45 specifically, it says something interesting.
    • And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
  • This was not a new principle with Paul.  This is something that the very first group of Christians did.  They knew they were a part of each other.  If my brother is in need, and if I can even partially alleviate that need, then I should, is the attitude they had.
  • So if Paul were to plant spiritual seed in people, sowing his gospel seed everywhere, was it really so much to ask that others share some of his more temporal needs?  If he was thirsty, who here would hesitate to find him a drink?  If he was hungry, would you let him starve or would you either buy or make him a sandwich?  Of course you would, and so would I.

12:  If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.

  • And this is also a very interesting thing.  From what Paul is saying here, it is plain that the Corinthians were already doing this – unless you were the Apostle Paul.  Now was that right?  No, but it also didn’t stop Paul.  Here, he says that he endured it – that is he put up with it – so that the gospel had NO hinderance in reaching the Corinthians.

13:  Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?

  • We talked about this last week, but Paul knew who he was speaking with – former servants in the temples of Apollo and of Aphrodite in Corinth.  They would be able to recall being fed after a long day of service to those that they now knew were no gods at all, and being refreshed and supplied to continue on with their service.  Paul, in equating this with the thing he was asking, only for those in the service of Him who was truly God for real, is appealing to that knowledge to make his point powerfully.  “Look, you guys know this, and some of you have even partaken of this in your past!” says Paul.

14:  So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

  • “Look,” says Paul, “God is asking the same thing of you.”  And it is because God has mandated that those who preach the gospel should derive support from their preaching of the gospel!  We preachers were never meant to be a blight on the land that were begging for money all the time, which is why you don’t often hear me speak of my financial needs, but when a discussion like this from Paul comes up in the regular course of teaching, I’m the best example I can think of.  I’m also not the only example I can think of, but that’s enough of that.

Clearly God intended those that were in the congregation to look after the needs of their preachers, so long as they were faithful.  The problem comes when thos clouds without water come along and break the model God has set up.  They ask you for your “seed money,” sown in faith, in order to “reap a harvest, 30-, 60-, or 100-fold.”  Folks, God NEVER, repeat, NEVER said that.  That’s a conflation of two ideas that if you ask me should never be conflated.  Sowing for a harvest in Jesus’ terminology meant preaching the gospel to people, not giving Him money.  And reaping the harvest is done at the end of time by God’s angels, not us, and we will have no profit in that.

Paul, in this opening paragraph has established two things of relevance t us as we study this chapter.  The first is that preachers have a right to make a living from their preaching.  The second is that Paul gave up that right.  He’s going to explain that next.

15-18:  I have given up that right for YOU so not to bring you trouble

In this paragraph, Paul is going to explain that he is not actually asking for this right.  In fact, he would rather die than take any money from the believers at Corinth.  Here, see what he says.

15:  But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one.

  • After all that Paul has said, he is constrained to point out that he isn’t actually asking for this special treatment because he has been a preacher to Corinth.  In fact, if I read this right, Paul would rather die than have someone from Corinth pay his way for anything.  It would make Paul’s boast of no effect, and I guess that would be more than he could handle – because he wasn’t doing this for himself, but for the sake of Christ.

16:  For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.

  • To understand this verse, you have to understand Paul’s relation to Christ and to the Gospel properly.  At this point, he has used the word “boast” twice, and in both cases, it is a word that invokes the source of that which is the source of the declaration, but in Paul’s case it is not filled with pride which would be sin, but with joy at doing what he was supposed to be doing.
  • When Paul preached the Gospel, it was the job that the Lord Jesus Christ gave him.  He did it under compulsion, so to speak.  It wasn’t against his will, per se, or even the case that his will had any part of the decision, he was just doing what he was supposed to do.  He was under compulsion.  In fact, if he ignored it, he declared woe to himself, and I have NO idea what that could have meant for Paul, but I can assume it would have been dire, just as it would be dire for me if I did not preach the word for you whether I felt like it or not.

17:  For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.

  • Here, Paul elaborates on the previous statement.  If I preach this voluntarily, I have a reward, Paul says.  He isn’t specific on what that is, but he doesn’t have to be.  Recall 1 Cor. 2:9 where Paul quoted, “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.”  He doesn’t have to know to be dazzled, it’s so good it is beyond imagination, and for us too if we do it voluntarily.
  • On the other hand, if I am doing this against my own will, it is because I have a stewardship entrusted to me.  Beloved, I have to admit, I know a little about both sides of this.  There are times where I am just filled with eagerness at the prospect of preaching something, because the Lord has given me something good to say from a passage, kind of like when I preached through Romans 8, both parts.  And there are other times that it seems like the last thing I want to do, like when I’m speaking about the judgement of God, knowing full well that we may be in danger of falling under it, or that I will have to give an account regarding you as your pastor.  And you all know I’m no tattle-tale.  But I will have to give a report.  I want that report to be good.  And I don’t want to do it – but I have a stewardship entrusted to me by God, and I will do the very best I can on that, so as not to lose my reward.

18:  What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

  • Back to Paul’s point, what reward is his in this case?  That he can declare the gospel without charge to the Corinthians and not take full advantage of his status as a servant of God and an Apostle with a capital A.

Paul would rather give up his rights than bring trouble, remember.  If the meat that he ate would offend you, he was prepared to become a vegetarian.  If you having to support him was going to cause you to stumble, Paul was willing to support himself by working in his tentmaker trade to support his gospel activities and his room and board, so to speak, where he really did have the right to expect to be cared for in those ways so as to focus on the preaching of the word to people.  In fact, Paul just wanted to fulfill that desire God had put within him to preach the gospel to everyone, which brings us to our next paragraph:

19-23:  Everything I do, I do to bring the gospel to YOU…

Remember, the idea of liberty was very important to the Corinthians, and it had been taught by Paul himself, likely so that they would realize that the Lord had set them free from that debauched Corinthian culture of the day.  Remember, to make something debauched in those days was to “Corinthianize” it, and that says a lot about the depravity of the society that they were in.  It is no wonder that these folks had to be taught about freedom from sin, that’s for sure.

Now, Paul is making a case that even though he has been set free from all sin here, he chooses rather to use that freedom to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, that is, the gospel in a way that maximizes his efforts.  Let’s see what he means.

19:  For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.

  • Just to mention it, the word “men” does not occur in the original Greek, though of all the words that could be put there, it stresses the text the least because of the sentence construction.
  • What Paul is saying is that though Christ has set him free, making him a free man, a free thinker, certainly free from sin, just….well, free…He has become a willing slave of all so that he might win more people to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Confusing?  Don’t worry, Paul is about to explain with examples and logic.

20:  To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;

  • Here, he talks about “becoming a Jew” in the sense of presenting the gospel in a way that Jews can relate to easily.  It is the same when he talks about being “under the Law.”  Paul is telling us that all of these people have unique perspectives and understandings, and that he is tailor-making his gospel presentations to appeal to that category of people’s way of seeing things.
  • I think the present-day words we would use to describe that are sympathy and empathy.  We know how they feel and think, so we edit ourselves on the fly to speak to them the way they want to be spoken to.  This is actually psychologically known as the Myers-Briggs understanding of things.  It is used extensively in sales, particularly in insurance or other financial vehicles, but in sales of everything from shoes to groceries.  Paul says we should speak the gospel to people the way they want to be spoken to!
  • Don’t misunderstand me – Paul is simply tapping into observational truth – it is easier to sell to someone that you understand, speaking in terms of their point of view and their concerns.  Today, people have all kinds of published research on the topic.  An organization called Huthwaite did it for sales, by the way.  Understand peoples’ perspectives.  It makes a difference.

21:  to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.

  • I find it interesting that in the middle of his speaking about how to talk to people by understanding their points of view and where they come from, Paul takes a moment to say that he (and therefore we) are not without the law of God, but are in fact under the law of Christ.  So much for the Antinomians.
  • Now – I must dutifully warn you that there may be those hat would try to make a difference between the law of God and the law of Christ.  Usually, I have heard the argument go something like this:  The Law of God is the 10 commandments, but the law of Christ is that you love God and your neighbour and yourself.  Ever hear that?  I can hear the brothers chuckling in the background, and I’ll explain why.
  • Careful readers of Scripture will know the passage where Jesus is asked the greatest commandment by the Scribes and Pharisees in an effort to trip Him up, which went awry, as such things always did with the Lord.  I’ll give you the references – Matt. 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, and Luke 10:25-28 – but in that passage, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord equated the Law of God with the law of Christ.  He said that the greatest commandment in the law was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love everyone else like we love ourselves.  (Note, we already love ourselves, He isn’t commanding us to love ourselves).  Then He said something absolutely fascinating to me:  On these two commandments (and they were both Old Testament commandments, by the way, Jesus wasn’t coming up with anything new when he said to love your neighbour) – hang (like a coat on a hook) ALL of the Law AND the Prophets.  This was what ALL of that was talking about – and if you can do those two things – love the Lord your God and love your neighbour like Jesus described – you could keep the entire law of God.  Beloved, that is why we must NEVER “unhitch” Old and New Testaments.  The New is where we live – but the Old provides the context for all of the New.  So much for Andy Stanley’s theories on that subject.  I’m with Phil Johnson.  It’s time to “unhitch” from Andy Stanley.

22:  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.

  • Back to Paul’s point, however.  After reminding us to focus on who we are as we did that so as not to forget and do dumb stuff like make up parts of your testimony, for example, he returns to his main thrust – that he has “become all things to all men – at least as much as possible, so that SOME may believe the gospel and be saved.
  • I would say give a sympathetic ear, and as much as possible, when preaching Christ, put yourself in the shoes of the person you are preaching to.  Empathize if you can.  Allow yourself to feel or at least understand their emotions when they are giving their story to that point.  Then speak the gospel and how it relates to their situation.  THAT’s relevant, not whether we have the latest church Sunday school curriculum by Hillsong or some such similar idiocy.
  • Notice only SOME will be saved.  That’s okay.  It isn’t your job to save them, it’s God’s.  Maybe they are not ready to hear the gospel yet.  Maybe they never will be.  But that’s God’s call and doing – you just be a faithful witness.  SOME WILL respond.  To those that do, you make that one a disciple and teach them everything you know about Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

23:  I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

  • Paul is telling what he does with a decided point – for him, it is ALL about the gospel and spreading it.  It is literally, according to his use of the Greek word sunkoinonos, is becoming a companion that is engaged in the activity of the gospel, that is the preaching and sharing of faith in Jesus Christ and his substitutionary death on the cross. 
  • For all you KJVO-watchers in the crowd, this is a place where you can actually point to a real translation error  BY THE KJV TRANSLATORS.  The KJV text of this verse reads, “And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”  The Greek reads, “Τοῦτο δὲ ποιῶ διὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι.”  Vine actually points out the misplaced “with” (NASB, “of”) in the “with you” at the end.  The translators should have understood that the form of sunkoinonos actually references the gospel itself and not “you,” who would have been the Corinthians reading or hearing the letter.  That actually changes the meaning of the phrase to a corporate activity, when Paul was meaning it was his individual activity, as is all actual preaching.  I mean, could you imagine, all these people preaching together in unison?  Beloved, we have enough trouble with a unison reading of the word of God.  Can you imagine unison preachers?  And it would have to BE unison, because Paul will tell us later that the Lord is not the author of confusion!
  • Incidentally, I am not a Greek expert, like I said, it was William Vine that tipped ME off.  And before any of the KJVO people start attacking my textbase, I was using the UNPARSED BYZANTINE TEXTBASE, the very same one that was used by the translators of the KJV.  Yes, the 1791 Cambridge translators that you guys say did the job for the whole English language for all of time.  Do you not see the problem with that statement?  Worse, if I as just a regular non-Greek-scholar guy can see the implications, people who cannot see it are being willing fools if this is their subject matter, as it is in the KJV-Onlyist cult.  Actually, I’m wondering now if three of four folks might not like to try this down in the market sometime…  [much internal laughter by me]  It certainly would be a spectacle.  How effective it might be remains to be seen…

The point here is that everything Paul did was calculated by Paul to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ and his substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for us to as many people as possible.  No one except a hyper Calvinist would say that isn’t important. (They say that because they feel that the Elect will be saved no matter what anyone does, so why bother.)  No matter what you think, if you can preach that gospel to more people, why wouldn’t you?  And I think Paul here is saying stuff to model the behaviour for us.  The very next paragraph is why I think that, so let’s look at that.

24-27:  I will run to win (you to the gospel)…

Here Paul immediately launches into an analogy, or sermon illustration if you ask me.  But remember the context of the passage is overall the giving up of one’s own rights so that one may preach the gospel more effectively to more people.  I don’t know if that is more people at once, but it is one possibility, and there are more than one here.

What is clear at least to me is that Paul’s liberties are surrendered willingly in every case so that he may preach the gospel more effectively to more people.

24:  Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

  • What is Paul driving at here?  The race being pictured here was probably a distance race, and as citizens of that country of Greece, they would have been familiar with the story of the marathon, how a soldier in full armour ran 26 miles from the coast to the nearest village to tell them of the victory over King Xerxes, only to drop dead after delivering the news.  Does he want us all to go and run in the Ottawa Invitational Marathon?  I don’t even know if we HAVE one of those.  I do know one thing.  If I try to run 26 miles, I too will be dead before the 10-mile marker, and probably for multiple cardiac reasons, not to mention the body weight issue, the arthritis, the back, the knees, the neck…you get the idea.  I’m not in my early 20s anymore, and I don’t want to be.
  • Moreover, I don’t think Paul wants to run a 26-mile race either.  He is telling us about the construction and organization of the race, not to go run in one.  All the runners run, he tells us, but only ONE runner receives the prize, ostensibly for doing it in the least amount of time.  What is Paul’s encouragement from that to us?
  • Run in such a way as you may win.  He’s using an interesting device here – he’s asking you to picture you running in such a race.  Then he’s asking you to run mentally in such a way as you may win.  He is ultimately asking you in not so many words to ask yourself what it would take for you to win that race.
  • Let me put that into modern language, but in Paul’s intended and actually used context.  Picture yourself preaching the gospel to a large mixed crowd.  How can you preach the gospel to as many of them as possible, as effectively as possible, so that some of the people you speak with will be saved according to the will of God?  That’s how you win.  What kind of training do you need, for example?  What other resources will you require?  This is what Paul wants us to start thinking about IN CONTEXT in my own opinion.  You may have another opinion, and after the study, maybe you can share that with the group.

25:  Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

  • See?  Paul is speaking here about training, diet, everything that has to do with the health of the runner so that they will have the best chance to do the best at the race that they can.  What does that mean for the Christian?  Well, WE need to be exercising self-control in all things.  How do we construct a healthy “Christian training regimen?”  Well, I think it starts with knowing the gospel, largely because you have to have dealt with your own sin before God and repented of it and believe that Jesus took your place.  This isn’t something that can be faked, by the way, you need to really believe for real.  After that, it comes down to your discipleship, and how well you practice Acts 2:42 – the study of God’s word, fellowship, worship, and prayer – both by yourself with God and together as the church, the corporate representation of Christ.  And how disciplined are you with the exercise of that?  Are you exposing yourself to the Scriptures every day, for example?  Regarding your old sin nature, are you putting that old man who was crucified with Jesus to death every day?  Are you exercising self-control on how much non-Christian, non-necessary entertainment you watch?  What good Christian books are you reading?
  • That’s what I think Paul has in mind from everything he has said, everything I have seen in Scripture for 35 years now.  The runners of that marathon know this, and they live their training every day.  How about us?  Are we pushing ourselves forward into higher and higher application of the Scripture to our lives?  Or are we over in the corner just watching others practice?  Because that’s a real possibility in all our talk about what to do, we can become very adept at critiquing how others do it without actually doing it ourselves.
  • And the runners of that marathon are running to receive a crown made of leaves (called a laurel) that they get to wear for a few minutes of one day.  Today’s athletes actually hang a medal on their wall, but what happens when those young athletes get old and fat?  You know, like me?  The race we run in comparison is of far more infinite value.  The prize we win is nothing but fellowship with Christ Himself, beloved.  Remember what Paul said early on in this letter – eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for them that love Him.  What prize motivates you to action?  And to what action does it motivate you?  All these things are things that are signs, beloved brethren.  Signs, that I might add may be read by anyone who is discerning, like your pastor, for example.  I’ll leave that thought there.

26:  Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;

  • Here Paul is saying a couple of important things about running that heavenly race and how HE does it.  I think it at least instructional (and valuable if you recall from 2 Timothy that he said he had run the race and finished his course, and that he would be receiving that winning crown) to consider, so here we go.
  • I am not running without an aim.  I know what my objective is and I am always running towards it.  Now you can tell me that is my interpretation, but I don’t know what else that could possibly mean in this context.  Paul defined his target, took aim, released, and hit the mark.  What was Paul aiming you may ask?  The Gospel.
  • Paul also takes up a boxing analogy.  After defining his goals and running toward them, he brings this up.  Let me put it in modern terms – he is done with the shadow boxing.  That’s a training technique, by the way.  It improves your speed and control at the same time.  You are always trying to hit the vulnerable point on your own shadow, and you get pretty fast and pretty accurate after a while.  Paul says he’s DONE with training.  He sets out into the world to run the race.  But why?  To what point?

27:  but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

  • So that Paul will be in full control of himself, I suspect.  Think about this.  Self-control is a part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  What is Paul doing?  He’s disciplining himself.  Yes, there is a physical part of this, but I think because of what he told Timothy about disciplining himself in 1 Tim. 4:8 – “…for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
  • Paul is telling us that all our spiritual disciplining of ourselves gives us greater and greater self-control.  That’s what I think it means in this context to make my body my slave, rather than I be a slave to the body.  That kind of control of self will be needed to earn that immortal crown. 
  • Why?  Well, after having preached to others, Paul’s exact words, so that HE will not be DISQUALIFIED.  Rejected.  Not having stood the test.  What test?  I suggest to you that the test is in 1 Corinthians 3, and it is the Day of the Lord that is revealed in FIRE.  If your stuff burns, you fail.  You’re still saved, but that is all you are.  If your stuff remains, it is made more beautiful by the fire, even purified and made clean.  Think about it, what other kind of test has Paul been speaking about?  That’s the only one I remember him mentioning in this letter, so – context, right?

Beloved, you have to understand that everything Paul has said by way of corrective statement so far is that there is a great reward coming that is so good you cannot imagine, and there will be a test.  That test is a day that will be revealed as fire, and all of our works with all of our choices in building materials will be tested.  Well, we cannot say we were not warned.  And so we must take great care lest WE be disqualified after preaching to others about being ready.

The first and most important thing is making sure you are part of the kingdom of God.  Do you know the gospel?  Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and after that substitutionary death on a Roman cross, he rose from the dead according to the Scriptures, showing that the price has been paid for all believers for all time, and that we were set free from the power of sin and death in our lives if we will really and truly believe.

Then, if we believe, we are called to walk with Christ in His Holy Spirit, in that new nature He died to give us.  Galatians 2:20 says that “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live – yet not I, but Christ lives in me.  The Life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God that loved me and gave Himself for me.”  That changed life is the proof, by the way, that He HAS changed you.

Ultimately, when Christ returns to finally establish the kingdom of God on earth, He will glorify His people with the glory that the Father glorified Him with, according to the Scriptures.  Oh how I want to be a part of that day, having stood the test of the fires of that day.

And that’s what I saw in chapter 9!

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